Top 5 ways Martinez/Skandera ‘reforms’ are failing New Mexico’s public education

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Four years and hours and hours of testimony and hearings later, the state senate finally made Governor Martinez’s pick for public education chief official on Monday, thanks to a handful of Democrats who joined Republicans to confirm Hanna Skandera.

New Mexico Public Education Sec. Hanna Skandera

Now that educators and students are stuck with Skandera for four more years, we thought we’d take a look back at what the first four years of Florida-tested education ‘reform’ brought NM:

Special Ed. students get a $100,000,000 screw you

853233_thumbnailIn June 2013, the US Dept. of Education notified Skandera’s Public Education Department that it had been withholding up to $100 million in funding from special education students in New Mexico, and now we’ll have to pay that back from future money.

And it wasn’t as if we didn’t have the money.  While some states opted for an exemption that would have let them plan future special ed. funding in concert with the feds, PED just opted to cut back on spending for special education students and not tell the feds.  That prompted them to determine that New Mexico wasn’t providing special education students with the eduction they deserve.

From the Santa Fe Reporter:

For the past two years, PED hasn’t been providing the required amount of funding for special education spelled out under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act. IDEA is a federal program that provides special education support to states as long as they earmark enough money in their own education budgets toward special education programs (all states have accepted IDEA funding).

The federal IDEA threshold for each state is called the “maintenance of effort.”

“You have to maintain a certain level of funding for those special ed students or you do not get funding from the US Department of Education for IDEA,” state Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Bernalillo, tells SFR.

The numbers New Mexico has been off by are in dispute. According to Stewart, the PED claims its special ed funding has been $25 million short over the past two years, while the USDOE says that number is closer to $100 million.

Third-graders required to take 19 hours of testing per year

sweet little girl bored under stress asking for help in hate school conceptTesting is big business and no class of students are more profitable than third graders under PED’s new ‘more tests’ policies. In 2014, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported that third grade students would be subjected to 19.5 hours of testing to meet all of the testing requirements imposed on students.

A new report from Santa Fe Public Schools found that under the new requirements, third-graders would be required to sit for 19.5 hours for testing per year if they were performing in Spanish and English:

In what Bowman called a worst-case scenario, a third-grade English-language learner in a two-way dual-language program could spend up to 19.5 hours of testing in a year. – Santa Fe New Mexican, Sept. 3, 2014

Other grade levels are required to be tested almost that much – including those 8-year-old third graders who must sit for 15 hours a year just completing state required tests.

In Santa Fe Public Schools, fourth- and seventh-graders are tested the most, at 15.5 hours per year. Third-graders spend 15 hours testing. Students in grades five, six, eight, nine and 10 undergo 13.5 hours of testing, while 11th-graders spend 11 hours testing. Students in grades K-2 take six hours of tests. – Santa Fe New Mexican, Sept. 3, 2014

You get an “A,” I mean a “D,” I mean a “B+,” oh, I don’t know what grade you get

One of then Sec.-designate Skandera’s first hires was Peter Goldschmidt, a PHd statistician hired to develop the most complicated algorithm on Earth to judge teachers and schools in New Mexico.  Initially hired on a $106,000 contract, Goldschmidt went on to be named the deputy secretary of accountability (read: judgement).

Goldschmidt’s new formula is now used to justify the firing of teachers and closing of schools, but the results out of his algorithm are so unreliable that he admits student scores “bounce around a little bit” and teachers received scores based on tests their students never took or based on school performance from schools they’ve never taught in.

Frustrated trying to figure out how their schools received the grades they did, Los Alamos Schools convened a team of five scientists from the national labs – including an actual rocket scientist, math experts and statisticians – to deconstruct the algorithm.  They couldn’t.

Wadt, a theoretical chemist and chair of the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation, said the average person probably couldn’t decipher the measures behind the system. Wadt, who said he has edited many scientific papers, said he doesn’t think it would “pass peer review in the scientific community.” Nor was he sure he could easily explain it.

Public Service Has a Private Benefit for Skandera

From Mother Jones:

This week, as [Jeb] Bush is back in the limelight in Boston kicking off his foundation’s annual education reform summit, a New Mexico advocacy group, ProgressNowNM, has filed a complaint with the IRS alleging that Bush’s foundation has failed to publicly disclose on its 990 tax forms thousands of dollars it paid to bring public school superintendents, education officials and lawmakers to foundation events where they had private “VIP” meetings with the foundation’s for-profit sponsors. Nonprofits are required to disclose payments for public officials’ travel and entertainment if it exceeds $1,000. Public records unearthed by the New Mexico group show payments for travel exceeding that amount for several state education officials whose travel wasn’t reported on FEE’s 990 form.

The complaint alleges that Bush’s foundation disguised travel payments for officials as “scholarships” to hide the fact that the nonprofit was basically facilitating lobbying between big corporations and public officials who control local tax dollars…

In its complaint, ProgressNowNM notes that New Mexico’s education secretary Hanna Skandera received foundation funds to travel to Washington, DC, to testify before a US House committee on the expansion of “virtual” education in her state. Skandera asked House members to consider providing more flexibility in federal funding to pay for virtual schools. Some of the for-profit providers of those virtual schools—among them the troubled K-12 Inc.—in New Mexico are also donors to FEE. Using tax-exempt funds to subsidize congressional testimony, ProgressNowNM says, is an “apparent violation” of IRS regulations.

New Mexico Education Outsourced to Florida, Texas, New Hampshire and more

No one knows New Mexico students and culture like for-profit consultants from Florida and Texas.  At least that’s the message Skandera sent when she fired the whole lot of New Mexico-based top education professionals and replaced them with millions of dollars in contracts to out-of-state “consultants,” sending work and money out-of-state.

From the NM Telegram (summarizing the SF Reporter):

A report in this week’s Santa Fe Reporter says that the Public Education Department has been outsourcing contracts to out of state companies — and spends more money on contracts with out of state companies than on companies located in New Mexico.

The report says “Since Jan. 1, 2011, PED has paid more than $6.5 million in professional service contracts to out-of-state providers, compared to $2.1 million for in-state providers.”

PED spokesman Larry Behrens* provided a spreadsheet to the Reporter that showed different numbers and noted that some contracts must be with out of state entities, such as the College Board.

However, the Reporter says one of the contracts that Behrens lists as an instate contract is “a $1.9 million contract with Measured Progress, a private company whose website states that it is headquartered in New Hampshire and has offices in Colorado, Kentucky and New York, as an in-state contractor.”

The controversy extends beyond the millions spent on out-of-state contracts.

The Reporter also listed a number of questionable contracts.

“A company based in Santa Monica, Calif., got more than $400,000 to help New Mexico comply with federal food service requirements. SFR could not find a website or working phone number for that company, and PED did not provide additional information about the contract before press time. A woman based in Tallahassee, Florida, who has no online presence, received $34,000 to “provide technical assistance” to Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera and other PED staff “in areas of communication, parent, teacher and public outreach and educational policy.” A Fort Worth, Texas, contractor named Cathie Lynn Carothers was paid over $31,000 in May 2011 to help PED hire “key people” to assist with Native American and Hispanic education policy. Almost a year later, the post to head the Indian Education Division is still vacant. State Rep. Ray Begaye, D-San Juan, has said that PED risks running afoul of the state Indian Education Act by failing to fill that post.”

Have another “highlight” you don’t want New Mexicans to forget?  Add it to the discussion over on our Facebook  pageFindUsOnFacebook here.